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Nutritious & Delicious

More than just a natural sweetener, honey has been used for thousands of years for its sweet flavor and its medicinal benefits. Whether you pour it on your pancakes or rub it onto a burn, honey is a household staple that no home should be without. 

Busy bees
When the weather warms and plants begin to flower, honeybees leave their hives to gather nectar and pollen and then return for the process of making honey. “Bees will travel 2 to 5 miles from their hives to collect nectar,” notes Ann Zudekoff, member of the Piedmont Beekeepers and the Peaks of Otter Beekeepers. “They always return to the hive they left.” 

Back at the hive, these busy bees deposit the nectar into honeycomb cells. They then fan their wings to extract the excess water and seal the cells with a waxy substance. Beekeepers remove the waxy substance and scoop out what is now the honey. A single bee produces about 1/12 of a teaspoon of honey per lifetime, which is only about 5 to 6 weeks. With proper care, a typical hive may yield about 50 pounds of surplus honey per year. 

“A pound of honey is about a cup and a half,” notes Zudekoff. “Honey has a reputation as being a food that never spoils. While it’s true that honey will last, you’ll never get better honey than the day it comes out of the hive.” 

Sweet satisfaction
If you’re simply stirring a teaspoon of honey into a mug of hot tea, the flavor of each specific type may be lost. To really note the individual essences, try spreading some honey on a piece of toast or a biscuit or just spoon a bit right out of the jar! Since honey comes from the nectar of plants, there’s simply no way to quantify the variety available. Each plant contributes unique flavors and colors, from light to bold in taste, from yellow to brown in color. 

According to Rob Howard, Virginia-certified master beekeeper of the Blue Ridge Beekeepers Association, “This area is known for sourwood honey. It’s an excellent, award-winning honey. If you’re looking for a light honey, black locust or clover is a good choice. Buckwheat is a bolder, darker honey.” If you want to try a variety of honeys, Howard suggests attending a bee club meeting in your area. Many clubs will offer an annual tasting event and members often bring their own honey to meetings to share with attendees. 

Much of the honey in this area is wildflower honey. A subtle, sweet honey that’s good in teas, wildflower honey is wonderful paired with sharp cheddar cheese on a charcuterie board. Other flavors to look for: lavender, sage, orange blossom, dandelion and alfalfa. 

Pure honey is tasty on its own, but infused honeys are interesting, flavorful treats as well. You’ll find honey infused with bourbon, spices, herbs, fruits, vegetables, and more to provide a unique taste and offer wide appeal. “Hot honey” has become a fad in recent years. Spicy peppers are added to the sweet liquid, resulting in a spicy/sweet combination that gives your taste buds a thrill.

Medicinal value
In addition to its use as a natural sweetener and a delicious treat, honey also has a reputation for medicinal value. Many people like honey for its effect on seasonal allergies. Since bees collect nectar and pollen from trees and plants, you can introduce yourself to the allergens a little at a time by enjoying local honey. Thus, when everything is in full bloom, allergy symptoms may not be as severe. 

Rich in antioxidants, antibacterial and boasting anti-inflammatory agents, honey has been used for centuries as home medicine to treat a variety of acute and chronic illnesses. Honey has a positive impact on blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and when compared to white sugar, honey has a smaller effect on blood sugar in those with diabetes. Honey also improves gut health; it doesn’t ferment in your stomach like refined sugars do. 

According to Howard, “People often use honey for a simple sore throat or for even serious wounds and burns. Honey is a contact antibacterial substance,” he explains. “It kills bacteria and keeps wounds clean. Burn patients are given bandages that have medical-grade honey on them to promote healing.” Honey can even be rubbed on rashes to reduce skin irritations. It is important to note that ingesting honey is not recommended for children under the age of 1. 

As with any purchase, “It’s important to read labels,” notes Howard. “My advice is to stay away from imported honey because it has some metals or corn syrup that shouldn’t be there. Some imported honey is good, but you really have to be careful. At a large box store or a grocery store, you may not be getting what you want. Do your research!” 

Howard recommends buying the honey at local farmers’ markets and directly from the beekeeper. Also, look for a local apiary, a location where hives of bees are kept. Apiaries vary in size from a hobbyist’s hive to a commercial operation. 

The buzz on beekeeping
If you’re interested in beekeeping, organizations like Piedmont Beekeepers and Blue Ridge Beekeepers are great places to start. Starter kits for beginning beekeepers are sold for around $200 and come with everything needed for the initial colony. 

Zudekoff was careful to warn first-time beekeepers. “There’s a reason we call it beekeeping and not honey collecting,” she laughs. “That first year, the emphasis is really on growing your colony. Lots of factors go into actually being able to harvest honey: the strength and health of the colony, the weather, the beekeeper, a little bit of luck. It’s different every year. The focus is really on the bees and, if you get honey, that’s a plus.” 

The Virginia Beekeeping Teachers Consortium conducts classes annually through local clubs for those wanting to become beekeepers. Even if you’re not interested in beekeeping, you can positively impact the honey supply by planting nectar and native pollinator plants in your yard. 

Nutritious and delicious, honey can be stored on your table and enjoyed in recipes or straight out of the jar. Its yummy goodness combined with its medicinal uses will make you want to head right down to your local farmers’ market.

Honey Baked Cinnamon Pears

Photos: James River Media

  • 4 medium pears
  • 3 Tablespoons of honey
  • 2 Tablespoons of butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Peel pears with a vegetable peeler, cut off the ends and then halve the pears. Scoop out the core. Place the pears face down in a glass baking dish. In a small bowl, combine the honey, cinnamon, vanilla and butter and heat in the microwave for 30 seconds. Pour half of the sauce over the pears. Bake for 25 minutes until soft and slightly brown. Pour the remaining sauce over each pear before serving.

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